Anti-western anger in Ghana has taken the form of protests in support of Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi. BEN CURTIS/AP FILE PHOTO
By James Munson
Anti-western anger over NATO strikes in Libya has crossed the Sahara and sparked protests in northern Ghana.
Hundreds of people marched in Tamale last month with placards that read: “We support (Moammar) Gadhafi” and “Stop the War on Islam.”
In the past several months, as rebels groups first protested and then fought Gadhafi’s forces, people in Tamale seemed supportive of the uprising.
In most conversations, Ghanaians had disdain for a man who has ruled Libya for four decades.
But last week’s fervour shows that regional and religious solidarity holds sway in many circles here too.
“The main point is that America, the UK and France, they should not be there,” said Mohammed Omar Sharif, a protest organizer in Tamale.
“They should leave Africa to Africans.”
Muslims are the majority in this region of Ghana. The call to prayer echoes across the city throughout the day and people pray on mats outside their shops in rows.
But the attitude towards non-Muslims is peaceful. Marrying Christians is permitted in some cases and the city’s mosques welcome non-Muslims interested in learning Islamic prayer.
That’s what made last month’s protests so out of the ordinary.They were an uncharacteristic display of suspicion towards the West.
“[The Libyan war] is an attack on Islam,” said Sharif.
The fact that the rebels fighting Gadhafi are Muslims too and that they requested help from the West didn’t faze Sharif; he dismissed them as trouble makers.
“Nobody in the world likes rebels,” he said. “And these are not [the West’s] rebels. So why are they there?”
“They said Gadhafi is killing people. But now that (NATO) is there, they are killing even more people.”
If the Western powers pull out, peace and harmony would surely come, he said.
“Gadhafi’s people, they are more,” he said. “There are more of them. So they should let them be.”
Last month, the New York Times reported that pro-Gadhafi mercenary recruitment groups were popping up in Mali, hoping to go to Libya and join the fight.
But Sharif says he doesn’t know about any Ghanaians crossing the desert to support the dictator.
“I don’t know about that one,” said Sharif. “We are fighting with our prayers to god. As for going over there, we have not sent people there. Not yet.”
Local newspapers report that around 16,000 Ghanaians have returned from Libya since the fighting began.
The repatriated Ghanaians will likely shape opinions here too as they begin telling family and friends about their experiences.
On the same day as the protests, a young man came into the radio station where I’m working, Diamond FM.
He had been working in Libya and just got home, surprising friends who work here.
After a few hugs, the inevitable question came up.
“So are you Benghazi or Gadhafi?” said a co-worker here at Diamond.
“Oh, I’m Gadhafi,” he said.
They share a laugh, which, like the protest itself, shows how healthy Ghana’s democracy is when it comes to political differences.